Title: Wild Hearts

Genre: Romance

Rating: M

Pairing: Éomer/Lothíriel

Disclaimer: The Lord of The Rings and everything concerning it belongs to J. R. R. Tolkien. I own nothing and make no financial profit by writing this.

Summary: For all that she knew of the world had until this day made her believe that there was no such thing as love at first sight.

Author's Note: I don't know what this is. I'm sick and this just came to me, and I had to write it because it's not like I can do anything else in the bed. I had to upload it as well. I'm sure this is at least partly because of the medication

This is not that thing I've talked about in Author's Notes of House of Sun. That's something far larger and more epic. This is just another manifestation of my thing for the "Éomer and Lothíriel meet before the war" angle. I don't think this will be long, though. I suppose this is something that could go far longer and larger if I just worked on it, but I need to get House of Sun done and I really really want to start working on that other thing too.

I'm the strange breed that is both for the reason and the romance at the same time. Romance has to be well written for me to like it - but when it is well written I ship it like FedEx. This is not to say I consider myself the Great Master of Romance. It just means that while I might not support ideas like love at first sight in real world, I love to see them well executed in fanfiction. This is such an attempt. Hopefully it will make you believe in love at first sight, if only until the end of the chapter.

But as she looked on him, doom fell upon her, and she loved him; yet she slipped from his arms and vanished from his sight even as the day was breaking.

- Of Beren and Lúthien.

Chapter 1

My lord Denethor -

You need not remind me of the old friendship between our kingdoms, and gladly do I answer your call for help. The safety of the realm of Gondor is a matter that is close to my heart, as it has been a concern for all the Kings of the Mark since the time of Eorl the Young.

However, I must regretfully inform I can't quite send you a force as large as you were hoping for. The situation has not been too good in my own kingdom as of late, and my riders are direly needed to protect the lands of the Rohirrim. As such I send half the amount of men you asked for.

This should not be problem, I hope. For I have sent you one of my most valiant captains – that is Lord Éomer my nephew, for whom I have great expectations and intend to raise a Marshal of the Mark very soon. This I hope will convince you of his skill of leading men. Young man he is, but I assure you can trust him to give you the best aid imaginable, and under his leadership the men I have sent will be as efficient as if I there were twice the amount of riders.

I wish the best luck for the campaign, and may the children of Men stand ever brave and valiant against the shadow.

With best regards,

Théoden King of Rohan

April 3016, Minas Tirith

Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, spent a long moment reading and re-reading the letter sent to him by King Théoden. Troubled he felt as he doubted half the men he had asked could achieve what he had in mind. A campaign in Ithilien did require more riders, he deemed... but then, the Rohirrim took much pride in their cavalry and their skills in riding – and for a good reason, it was said. Finer horsemen were not to be found anywhere else in Middle-earth. In their eyes half of the force he had hoped for was probably more than enough.

At last he looked up from the letter and to the man standing before him. Upon his arrival from west this rider had introduced himself as Lord Éomer and he was the captain Théoden had written about. He was very tall, perhaps taller even than Boromir himself. Though the layers of heavy armour probably contorted the proportions somewhat, he was obviously of broad build, like those blond giants of the North usually were. And golden-haired he was, with that wild mane falling on his shoulders.

Théoden had written his nephew was young but even Denethor, a man of keen sight, had some difficulty remembering that when studying the face of this rider: he was stern of look and returned Denethor's gaze steadily. The expression in the Rohir's eyes was sharp and discerning and he never showed any sign of being uncomfortable under Denethor's close scrutiny. Standing with his feet apart in a manner of a swordsman, this rider had an air of authority, of a man who knew how to command and who fawned for no one.

"Your uncle the King writes he could only send half the men I was hoping for", Denethor said at last when the silence had started to grow awkward. His words did not seem to affect the Rohir too much.

"I understand your concern, my lord, but I assure you the force that rides with me is large enough for what you have planned. These are some of the best men from the éored of Marshal Ánfeald of Aldburg", answered the horselord calmly.

Denethor regarded the man on the front of him thoughtfully. How old was this rider anyway? Usually the Steward had no trouble guessing the ages of men, but now he had not the slightest idea. Surely this rider could not be of similar age as Boromir? Yet he could not imagine Rohirrim appointing young fickle men as captains.

"I hope you don't mind me asking how long have you served under the King?" he inquired, deciding it was probably not the best to directly ask for the man's age.

"Nine years. Ever since I turned sixteen. Before that, I had been training for many years already", said the rider, and his face did not betray what he may think of Denethor's question. He was only 25 years old! No man of Gondor could ever dream of having such a responsible position so young. But then, as he looked at the Rohir again, he thought of his own sons at that age. This Lord Éomer did not seem at all like Boromir and Faramir in their twenties; the sharp look in the dark eyes and the beard he sported did give him the air of an older man.

"And you're captain already?" Denethor asked.

"Aye, I have been given that honour", said the young man.

The Steward made a non-committal sound and leant back in his chair. Either Théoden had very poor judgement for elevating young reckless men, or this rider was precisely as efficient as his King thought him. The way this Rohirric captain stood and regarded him did at least suggest the latter. Long experience had taught Denethor that men who could keep their calm on the front of him, even retain their own authority with such ease, were not usually the useless kind.

"Still, I would have imagined the King should take this matter more seriously. After all, Gondor is the only thing that stands between Rohan and east", Denethor pointed out then. If this somehow irked the rider it didn't show; his expression remained calm and steadfast.

"Lord, Théoden takes the matter with all solemnity imaginable. But there are many dangers threatening our lands and our freedom these days, and not all of those dangers come from east. The Mark stands guard to Gondor just as well, for no one ever said the danger can't one time come from west or north. If guard is not kept in Rohan and Sons of Eorl won't defend their own realm as well, no rider will ever be able to come to the aid of Gondor", he answered.

Denethor frowned to himself and fell silent for a moment. Proud were the Men of the North and headstrong, and they had never envied the legacy of the sea that was in the blood of old Westernesse. They were content in their own ways and memories. But to him they seemed wild and unreliable, though he did not say that out loud. Insulting Théoden's own kin would not ensure the help of these ferocious children of the north.

"Fine. I do hope your uncle has made the right call in this, and the quest will not end in disaster", said the Steward, sitting straighter in his chair. He regarded the young rider with renewed alertness, "Captain, I'd have you introduce yourself to my sons Boromir and Faramir, who will lead the campaign. Boromir will explain you the details. But I would like to emphasis that this a quest of great importance, and it depends on the secrecy."

"Of course, my lord. My men are quite capable of stealth when needed. You can trust in the strength of Eorlingas", said the Rohir calmly.

Soon after, he exited to make the acquaintance Boromir and Faramir. As for Denethor himself, he spent a long while wondering what would come out of this campaign... and if the golden-haired horselord could be trusted to carry out his part as well as Théoden's words would imply.

Sunset was at hand when Éomer, nephew to Théoden King and Captain of Marshal Ánfeald of Aldburg, made his way to the royal stables of the Citadel. Entire day had gone by in the negotiations between him and the two sons of the Steward: Boromir and Faramir had outlined their ideas for purging the woods of Ithilien. Worrisome tidings of increased orc activity in that area had come to the ears of two Gondorian captains, and they were suspecting the orcs were attempting to establish some outpost there, to make easier their assaults to west and south. Such thing could not be tolerated, and a swift and strong strike was in order.

They were set to leave the next evening and make use of the cover of the night. Lord Boromir would have had them depart already today but Éomer had insisted his men and the horses get a proper night's rest after the long journey from the Mark. After being tasked with something so important he wasn't going to compromise the well-being of his riders and their steeds.

As he entered the stables with the intention of seeing all was well with his own horse, he thought of the Steward and his sons. Of Denethor he wasn't sure what he thought, but his sons were not quite as distant or critical as the great lord himself. The Steward had hid it well but Éomer had not missed a flash of doubt in the man's sharp grey eyes. Well, he had expected something of the sort, because the man was known for his pride and his people of their prejudices towards Rohirrim, even despite the alliance between the two realms.

But he'd do his duty, and aid the Steward's sons the best he could... and then hopefully he'd be able to go home and return to the usual routine, in which he was content. Grand as this great city was, he wasn't so sure he liked it too well.

He was in the middle of checking his stallion's feet when he first saw her. She was leading a chestnut gelding by reins, looking wind-blown from a ride. Locks of dark hair had escaped from her long and thick braid that reached all the way down to the small of her back. Slender she was, and tall as well, perhaps of equal height as Éowyn. But he reckoned she couldn't be twenty summers yet, for in her grey eyes – a bright clear shade which could only mean she was a daughter of the Men of West – there was a wild fire of youth. Her features, however, were delicate and even sophisticated, though it seemed to him there was also something sad about her expression.

The gelding was a fine animal, in southern standards at least. And evidently the horse was dearly loved or at least appreciated as his coat was well cared and he had a hale look about him. But what caught Éomer's attention was that she had been using a proper saddle, not one of those silly side-saddles Gondorian women reportedly used. Indeed, the woman was dressed in split skirt and leggings meant for riding astride – signs of a real horsewoman, if he was any judge.

"That your horse?" he asked bluntly. Immediately Éomer wished to kick himself as she could very well be a noblewoman of high birth, and just asking questions like that was not appropriate.

But she gave him a faint smile and there was no offence on her face.

"I wish. He belongs to my cousin, but I get to ride him sometimes as I don't have a horse of my own", she answered conversationally, like they had known each other for a long time. She lead the animal into the stall opposite Firefoot's, and she glanced at Éomer's horse with something that resembled longing. "Not much of a competition to your own."

"Well, I am a horselord", he said, which pulled another smile out of her. Éomer noted she was rather pretty when she smiled, though he wasn't sure it was something she often did.

She began to unbuckle the saddle then, showing the care and skill that only came with routine. A proper horsewoman indeed.

"Aren't there stablemen who could do that for you?" he asked. Picking up a brush he began to care for Firefoot's coat... that wasn't out of need, though, but he didn't want to look idle.

"Of course. But a part of my deal with my cousin is that I also care for the horse after the ride. I don't mind – it's easy work anyway, and I like being with horses. And any time I spend here in the stables is time I don't have to spend in my father's house pretending like I fit there", she said softly, not turning to look at him.

"Your father is a nobleman", he realised, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's all right. Believe it or not, I find it refreshing that someone is being so straight-forward with me. The Gondorian courts can be so tense sometimes", she said quickly before he could finish his sentence.

"I beg your pardon, but you do not really seem like they say Gondorian noblewomen are", Éomer commented, watching her from the corner of his eye. She let out a small laugh.

"Oh, I'm sure it's just the same way other way around, and things I've heard of you Rohirrim aren't always quite true", she said. Realising the truth of that statement, and that Eorlingas had their own prejudices about the southerners too, he felt kind of abashed. He hadn't ever really thought of it from this point of view.

"It's quite all right" she continued, evidently noticing his confusion. "Much of what you think of us isn't probably so far from the truth. My brothers tell me I'm the odd bird of the flock."

"Hmm. Perhaps then more birds should be like you", he said, again before really thinking. He and his big mouth! This was precisely the sort of thing Éowyn was always nattering about.

The young woman had stopped working. She rested her hands on the saddle and stared ahead as if there was some great mystery hidden there. He worried he had offended her but then she spoke again.

"Are all Rohirrim like you? So blunt, I mean?" she asked. It was now his turn to chuckle.

"We are an outspoken people, aye. But if you asked my sister, she would probably say I take it to another level entirely", he said, trying for a light tone. It seemed to ease her mood and she cast a smile at him. He answered that, and continued, "I am sorry, my lady. I'm not really cut for the Gondorian etiquette."

"It's fine. Like I said, I don't mind you being straight-forward with me", she consoled him. Then she looked curious, "If I may ask, what brings you to Minas Tirith? I can't even remember when was the last time I saw any Rohirrim here."

"Steward Denethor asked for some Rohirric riders to aid on a campaign to Ithilien. I came here with some men of my éored at the command of Théoden King", he explained.

"Oh", she let out softly. Suddenly, it seemed to him her face had become sad.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"It's nothing", she answered quickly. She had continued with the task of caring for the gelding and was now starting to brush the animal's coat. But she glanced at him again, "I suppose it means you're not going to stay in the city for long?"

"No. We'll leave tomorrow. I do not know yet how long we will be away", he answered. Somehow that made him feel regretful – something he had never really felt before at the prospect of war-waging.

"Of course. It must be important", she said, concentrating her eyes on the task at hand.

"Aye", he agreed quietly. Needing to distract them both, he then asked: "Do you live in the city, then? You spoke of your father's house."

"I... I do come to stay in Minas Tirith at times", she said softly. "All nobility does, though these days those who have other options prefer not to. They don't like the shadow."

That much was understandable. A part of why Éomer didn't like like this city was that ever-present, looming presence in the east. Though it didn't always seem like a shadow per say, it certainly was there and never went away... always watching and somehow even robbing the sun of its warmth at times.

"Does it scare you?" he asked.

"Sometimes. But it's either that or living with my aunt and sister-in-law. We don't often get along so well, and I know father is lonely here in the city – he's needed here so much these days. So I come to keep him company sometimes", she answered. Then she let out a helpless little laugh that was not very merry, "I don't know why I'm babbling like this. Surely you don't want to hear me complaining in such a way. It's not like I really know much of danger and darkness..."

"It's quite fine. It doesn't bother me", he told her, hoping she might see that he truly meant it. Had any woman, even in the Mark, ever opened her heart for him with such honesty and so trustfully? And the more she spoke the more he wanted to hear, and he had long since forgotten about brushing Firefoot... instead, he stood there watching her, this young woman who had such lonely eyes.

Now a small smile came to her face and she stopped to answer his gaze.

"You speak Westron so well, half the time I forget I'm talking to a man of Rohan. Some people always insist you don't speak the Common Speech at all", she said then.

"Some of us don't. Those who refuse to learn say Common Speech is such an ugly language. But my parents taught me since I was very young, and so did my uncle. It is needed to communicate with our friends here in Gondor", he answered. The young woman frowned.

"Your uncle? Did... did something happen to your parents?" she asked.

"They died many years ago", he answered quietly. It wasn't something he spoke of eagerly.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked", she quickly said and looked worried when she glanced at him.

"Don't worry about it. Like I said, it was many years ago", he said, turning his eyes towards the stable doors.

For a while she brushed her cousin's horse in quiet, wearing a slightly troubled expression on her face. At the sight of it his heart softened.

"Really, don't be uneasy. This is how life is. Pain and loss are part of it", Éomer told her gently. She gave him a sad little smile.

"Yes. It appears you're quite right about that", she agreed. Now her smile lost some of its melancholy, "Is that just your opinion or do Rohirrim think like that in general?"

"Sadly, I don't know every Eorling in the Mark", he said, which even made her laugh softly, "but I suppose that's something you would hear from others as well if you asked. Not perhaps in same words, but the idea would be the same. Life is... well, we take it as it comes."

The woman nodded thoughtfully. When she looked at him again she looked to be on a lighter mood.

"It's starting to think I've missed much, this being only the first time I talk with someone from Rohan. I feel like there's much I could learn from you", she said.

"From a barbarian people of north?" he asked without a hint of solemnity. The young woman laughed softly at his words and he didn't know why but it made him feel happy.

"As long as you bathe first", she said. But suddenly a troubled look took the place of good cheer that had appeared on her face and she looked away from him. She sighed then, "I suppose I should get going. I've been out too long – my father is probably worried about me already."

"Of course", Éomer answered. Unexpected feeling of disappointment came to him: he didn't want see her go... and, if he had to, he'd rather part with a promise of seeing her again.

So, as she turned to leave, he moved quickly to touch her arm. Sharply she turned to look at him.

"Could you perhaps tell me your name before you go?" he asked.

Again that sad expression was there, and he desperately wanted to see it gone.

"If you first promise me something", she said, her voice quiet.

"Of course. Anything", he said right away. Éomer had a feeling he wouldn't really have been able to deny her, no matter what she asked for. It was not a feeling he was used to, as women very rarely got to him like she did.

"Promise me you'll return alive from your campaign. Then perhaps we will exchange names", she answered.

Gently, he picked up her hand and gave a kiss to her knuckles. Small hand she had, but he felt strength in her fingers... an urge to cover that hand with his came to him even though he knew he should let her go.

"Aye. I will come back", he promised.

I'd meet you again, fair lady... and maybe see a smile on your face as well.

Lothíriel, Princess of Dol Amroth, returned to the house of her father resembling a sleepwalker. She passed by the guards at the gate and servants along the way with little notice, and if it sparked their attention that the young mistress was even more faraway than usual, Lothíriel herself did not know.

But as she wandered inside, she shook herself and forcibly returned to the reality: she should perhaps see her father before getting changed into a fresh gown.

She found him in his study, going through some papers or at least that was what it looked like. For all his greatness, Imrahil of Dol Amroth was kind of clueless when it came to keeping order in his personal study. She'd probably have to sweep through the place on the morrow.

When Lothíriel entered, he looked up from his work and smiled.

"There you are, daughter! I was already starting to think if I should send guards to look for you", he said and got up. When he pulled her in his arms and hugged her, she felt warm.

"I didn't mean to stay out so long. I suppose I just forgot myself", she answered and returned his smile. It had taken some time to persuade him to let her go riding all alone without guards, though he knew she could take care of herself. Growing up with three brothers usually made sure that one was capable of handling oneself. And as she had sworn she'd never ride too far from the gates of the city, Father had eventually given in.

"Always walking with you head in clouds, you are", he said fondly. Then his expression became quizzical, "Say, would you like to go to the Citadel tonight? Your uncle is having supper with some important guest from Rohan, and said we'd be welcome to join if we want."

A guest from Rohan? Instantly she thought of the man she had met in the stables... a strange little shiver ran down her spine as she thought of how he had watched her, those dark eyes studying her like he could see into her soul. It had felt good talking to him, though she certainly had babbled much more than she should have. But he had been so honest and genuine and friendly, and she had spilled out her thoughts before she could even think of what she had been saying.

Yet the idea of him also brought her wave of sadness, which was in good part because he might not return even if he had promised... and dining with some comrade in arms of his didn't seem too appealing.

"I'd like to stay home tonight", she said at last. Really, a quiet supper with her father and then going to bed early seemed like the best option.

"All right. I'll send him a word we won't come", said Father and kissed her forehead. "You do seem a bit pale and tired. Is something wrong, my dear?"

"Oh, I'm fine. I just stayed up too late last night reading", she answered with a sheepish smile. "You know how it is, having the libraries of Minas Tirith so close."

"Indeed I do", Father said and let out a weak little laugh. "Your mother was just the same – always with her nose in a book when we visited the city together..."

Lothíriel smiled weakly at the mention of her late mother and then made her way out to get changed into something else than her riding attire.

Some time later, when they were seated at the table and enjoying the meal, the princess finally asked a question she had been wanting to ask her father since coming back from the stables.

"Father, what do you think of the Rohirrim?" she asked.

"What of them?" he asked, faintly lifting his eyebrows.

"I just heard some were in the city. I saw some really beautiful horses in the stables", Lothíriel answered. She didn't usually make it her habit to lie or tell half-truths, but somehow mentioning the dark-eyed man didn't seem like something she should do. No, that conversation ought to remain sealed in her heart as a rare moment of honesty and companionship.

"Oh, yes. Your uncle sent word for their king and asked for their help. A party of riders did indeed arrive today", Father said.

"But what do you think of them yourself?" she asked, studying his face closely.

"Well, I don't really know how to answer that. I don't exactly know any Rohirrim. They're said to be fearless warriors and horsemen of unmatched skill, but wild and wilful and brash", he answered.

Wild? Wilful? Brash? The two first perhaps could be true, though she wasn't so sure about the man she had met. And even less he had seemed brash. Blunt, yes, but not brash. No, he had been friendly and even gentle. Anyway, Lothíriel didn't know if wild and wilful were bad things per say.

"I've heard that some Rohirric women even participate in battles sometimes. Shieldmaidens, they call them. It sounds quite fantastic, but who am I to deny it? But be it as may, Rohirrim are our friends and we should respect them, even if their ways don't always make sense to us", Father continued then. Lothíriel smiled.

"Perhaps I should become a Shieldmaiden too. Escape north and find myself some tall blond rider", she said lightly, but to herself the joke instantly lost its edge: she recalled dark eyes watching her and the thick golden hair... how might that hair feel like, if one touched it?

Father laughed, but when he spoke he did seem serious.

"Daughter, a man of Rohan would be the last one I'd want to give your hand in marriage", he told her.

"Why so?" Lothíriel asked carefully. She she kept her voice steady and her face blank, and Father noticed nothing. But inside there was an ache in her heart.

"I wouldn't want you to go so far away from us. And I do not feel I know enough of their life and ways to send my daughter to such an uncertain and strange life. Would they even know how to treat you, who are a Princess of highest birth in the realm? Or more importantly, would he know how to treat you?" Imrahil said and she could tell he was perfectly serious.

I think he would. The way he watched me...

But the truth was more cruel than that: he's but a stranger.

"Really, if a man of Rohan wanted to wed my daughter, he would have to be nothing less than the King himself", Father concluded his line of thought.

Lothíriel cast down her eyes and considered the dish before her. Delicious as it was, like one could expect of the kitchens of Prince of Dol Amroth, she found she had no appetite. Why did it feel like she had just lost something invaluable?

"Daughter? Is something wrong?" asked her father worriedly, having seen the shift on her face.

But Lothíriel had mastered masks and hiding her thoughts long ago, and she smiled up at him.

"I'm fine. I was just thinking", she said and forced down another spoonful of food that tasted like ash in her mouth.

Something was clearly wrong with her... for all that she knew of the world had until this day made her believe that there was no such thing as love at first sight.

Rohirrim always sang. They sang at life and they sang at death. In celebration they lifted their voices together, and in the every day routine they hummed the tunes and recited verses. They sang when they left for war or came home or went through simple household chores. It was said that an ordinary man of the Mark had a voice of an Elven minstrel , and even the farmer in the smallest household would remember countless songs about the heroes and heroines if old; their songs had laughter and love and tears and grief and hope. Indeed, it was in their music and in their songs the past of Eorlingas was recorded rather than in any book.

That was, Éomer mused, the difference between his people and the Gondorians. Songs were the spirit of the Mark, and whenever his éored left Aldburg it would be singing songs. But now as the men of Gondor and the riders lead by him left Minas Tirith there was no song in the air. Instead something of a hush had fallen and the faces of men were grave and reserved. Here singing voices were not welcomed.

His men had sensed this too, and quietly they rode after him when the war party started for the road on a dying day of April. It was peculiar, considering what a noisy lot these men usually were.

In silence they made their way from the Citadel, down towards the first level of the city. Lord Boromir travelled in the front of the party, and he had called Éomer to join him as well. However, he had declined the invitation and chosen to stay with his own men at the rear. Lord Faramir would join them on the other side of the river, as he would be leading his Rangers. Perhaps some other man might have felt his honour diminished for riding behind, but Éomer did not feel so. He was, after all, a stranger in a strange land, and his business here was to kill orcs, not to demand himself glory.

But as they passed downwards through the city he saw her, standing by the side of the road where people were gathered to watch them go. She was pale and her eyes were sad, more so than last night, and had the situation been any other he'd have stopped to ask if she was well... but it would have to wait for when he returned.

Éomer tipped his head towards her as a greeting and gave her a smile, hoping for a similar expression from her... yet instead he saw there something anguished. But then Firefoot was there at her side, and she reached up her hand towards him. He answered that gesture almost as though out of instinct, and briefly her fingers curled about his... but it was a fleeting touch, and her hand passed from his before he was ready to let go.

- but then, he didn't know if he ever would have been ready -

And she fell behind, for Firefoot pushed forward ignorant of his master's desires... one more glance he spared her, and her clear grey eyes remained fixed on him.

Tearing away his gaze took some effort, but Éomer looked ahead and promised to himself he'd see this sad-eyed young woman again.

A/N: Inspiration for the chapter: Natasha Bedingfield – Wild Horses